Kyle Busch needed more than his immense talent to nab Toyota's first win

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Toyota general manager Lee White stood just inside the iron fence that surrounds Victory Lane at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday and watched Kyle Busch celebrate the first Sprint Cup win for the foreign manufacturer.

"Maybe now we can talk about something else for a while," he said with a huge grin.

White has been the center of controversy since Thursday, when he said Roush Fenway Racing knowingly fixed the oil tank lid to come off Carl Edwards' winning Ford last weekend at Las Vegas.

That began an exchange with owner Jack Roush that escalated into an all-out war of words when Roush insinuated that Michael Waltrip wasn't the only Toyota team that illegally used "rocket fuel" last year at the Daytona 500.

Now the attention was on Busch.

Well, sort of.

Somewhat overshadowing Busch's first win with Joe Gibbs Racing were the overwhelming complaints about the hard tires Goodyear brought to the new car's first trip to the 1.54-mile speedway.

Second-place Tony Stewart, Busch's teammate, went so far as to say Goodyear should pull out of the sport and let Hoosier or Firestone build tires if Goodyear can't do better.

Third-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. was so frustrated he was thinking of attending a Goodyear tire test on Monday at Darlington, even though he's not one of the drivers scheduled to attend.

Drivers threw out more expletives about the way the tires affected handling than they did all of last season and through the first three races this season.

At one point Jeff Gordon asked crew chief Steve Letarte how many laps remained. When Letarte said 124, Gordon responded, "We're going to have to shorten this race if we're going to have cars like this."

Afterward, he added, "I felt like I was going to crash every single lap. I'm exhausted right now. I feel like I've run a thousand miles here. There is just no reason for this. This car, this tire, at this racetrack was just terrible."

Even Busch struggled, hitting the wall in Turn 1 early in the race and struggling with control all day.

"This race was a challenge," he said. "I'm telling you it was tough. We're out there on such an edge, it literally feels like you're driving on ice. It was the worst I ever felt in a race car. I can't imagine how those poor guys felt fighting for 30th.

"My hands are sore. I can barely make a fist. I think my pinkie almost broke off from the way I was holding the steering wheel. It was literally one of the toughest and hardest races I've ever drove."

Not everybody struggled. Edwards, who likes a loose-handling car, was pulling away from Busch with 51 laps remaining when his engine blew. He also admitted, "If I was running 20th, I'd be mad as hell about the tires."

The tires worked to Busch's advantage. His ability to handle a loose car as well as anybody on the planet enabled him to pull away from everybody except Edwards.

"That's where Kyle's talent comes in," Stewart said.

That shouldn't be lost in the controversy between White and Roush and the ensuing war against Goodyear. Busch may very well be the most talented driver in the garage -- as many have said he could be once he matured and backed off what has been called an overaggressive style.

Remember, it wasn't that long ago that Stewart said Busch was out of control and going to kill somebody if he didn't back off.

"I'm just doing my deal," Busch said. "Everybody always says I've been the aggressive driver, that I used to cause wrecks. I don't think I'm driving any differently than I used to."

Perhaps. But there's no doubt he's driving more consistently.

And not just in this series.

Busch has finished fourth, fourth, 11th and first to build a 73-point lead over Roush Fenway's Greg Biffle in the Cup standings. He has gone second, first and first in the trucks to lead that series.

He began the season with a pair of seconds in the Nationwide Series and was a blown tire away from winning Saturday's race at AMS and leading all three series.

Busch, who's now the first driver to win a Truck and Cup event on the same weekend, is everything JGR thought it was getting after he became available so Hendrick Motorsports could open a spot for Earnhardt.

"He is amazing to me," Stewart said. "I'm proud to have him as a teammate. He's been a huge asset. It's fun to watch him. The nights he runs the truck race and we're sitting on the bus, I normally don't pay much attention, but it's fun to watch him.

"He will drive it far beyond what it's capable of doing."

He'll do that sometimes when he shouldn't, such as late in the race Sunday when he nearly took out Dale Jarrett trying to make a pass with more than a three-second lead over second.

Busch was equally as aggressive when he went down on the apron to create a four-wide situation while making a pass in the Truck Series on Friday.

"I haven't seen anybody do that here," Stewart said. "Not on purpose, anyway."

Tony Stewart

He [Busch] is amazing to me. I'm proud to have him as a teammate. He's been a huge asset. It's fun to watch him. The nights he runs the truck race and we're sitting on the bus, I normally don't pay much attention, but it's fun to watch him. He will drive it far beyond what it's capable of doing.

-- Tony Stewart

Busch accepts all the accolades much more graciously than he did the criticism a few years ago.

"I'm flattered and fortunate enough to have the ability I do and have everybody talk about it," he said after leading a race-high 173 laps. "All I can do is drive my best and do what I'm paid to do."

At 22, Busch became the youngest driver to win at Atlanta. He surpassed four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon, who was 23 years old and seven months when he won here in 1995.

Asked just how good he is, Busch responded, "Did you ever ask Jeff Gordon that question years ago? How did he answer?"

Told the same humble way, Busch said, "At least I'm a mini-Jeff Gordon."

White certainly is happy to have Busch in Toyota's stable.

"That guy is just amazing," he said. "He can do things with cars that most wouldn't try."

But even White had to admit neither he nor Busch would be in Victory Lane and he wouldn't be smiling so big had Edwards not blown an engine.

"He is strong," White said. "If you had asked me before the race who the car was to beat, I would have told you the 99 or the 16 [fourth-place Greg Biffle] were the cars to beat.

"Regardless of all the other baloney that has been said this week, he's really strong and they're going to be there at the end. Jack [Roush] told me over lunch before Christmas he expects to have all five drivers in the Chase. I just hope we can make it interesting for him."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.